There has been a $320bn loss in international tourism receipts between January and May this year, according to the latest edition of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) World Tourism Barometer.
The enormous toll of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on international tourism has now become clear, translating into a fall of 300 million tourists and a 56% year-on-year drop in tourist arrivals. The figures, which cover the first five months of 2020, are more than three times the loss seen during the Global Economic Crisis of 2008.
The specialised UN agency noted the near-complete lockdown imposed in response to the global pandemic has led to a 98% fall in international tourist numbers in May compared to 2019.
As the situation continues to evolve, UNWTO has provided the first comprehensive insight into the impact of the pandemic. This is in terms of both tourist numbers and revenues, with the agency publicising them ahead of the upcoming release of up-to-date information on travel restrictions worldwide.
“This latest data makes clear the importance of restarting tourism as soon as it is safe to do so,” UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said.
“The dramatic fall in international tourism places many millions of livelihoods at risk, including in developing countries. Governments in every world region have a dual responsibility: to prioritise public health, whilst also protecting jobs and businesses.“
He added, “They also need to maintain the spirit of cooperation and solidarity that has defined our response to this shared challenge and refrain from making unilateral decisions that may undermine the trust and confidence we have been working so hard to build.”
The UNWTO said that tourism is slowly returning at some destinations, although the UNWTO Confidence Index has dropped to record lows, both for the evaluation of the January-April period, and the prospects for May-August.
Most members of the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts expect international tourism to recover by the second half (H2) of 2021, followed by those who expect a rebound in the first part of next year.
The group of global experts points to a series of risks that will affect the recovery of worldwide tourism. These include travel restrictions and border shutdowns still in place in most destinations, and safety concerns associated with travel. There are also worries on the back of major outbound markets such as the US and China having ground to a halt, a resurgence of the virus, and risks of commensurate lockdowns or curfews to halt its spread.
Furthermore, concerns over a lack of reliable information and a deteriorating economic environment are indicated as factors weighing on consumer confidence.